Tech start-up of the week: Herdwatch

5 Jul 20142 Shares

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Abbot and dairy farm manager Fr Richard from Mount St Joseph Abbey near Roscrea, Co Tipperary, with Herdwatch co-founder Fabien Peyaud and FRS Network marketing manager Jane Marks

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Herdwatch is a cloud-based ‘mobile CRM for cows’ that can literally save farmers hours of paperwork every week by allowing them to record farm and animal events directly on a smartphone, tablet or PC, anytime, anywhere.

Herdwatch co-founder Fabien Peyaud came to Ireland from France on an Erasmus scholarship. He promptly fell in love with the country and his future wife.

Now, based in Tipperary, he says the purpose of Herdwatch is to bring traditional farming into the mobile revolution.

He said the technology is disruptive and transformative.

“Despite the popular urban perception, farmers are a very computer literate and technically strong group of people. It makes perfect sense for them to adopt mobile technology to improve their lifestyle and make them more efficient.

“Herdwatch is the first cross-platform solution fully approved by the Department of Agriculture, and it gives farmers both mobility and peace of mind when it comes to recording legally required information, such as calf births or animal remedies. It can work offline, but being cloud-based means the farmer’s data can be easily managed from multiple devices,” Peyaud said.

The market

There are more than 2m cattle farmers in the EU and US alone. In Ireland, 93pc of them do not use any form of computerised herd management system, but most of them are carrying a mini-computer in their pocket in the form of a smartphone.

“Farming is a very mobile occupation, so Herdwatch aims to bring thousands of farmers into this ‘mobile farming revolution’, which is happening right now. We are currently developing our UK version, which will essentially double our target market, and we plan on rolling out to more countries in the near future.

“A recent visit to Ireland by the US Agriculture Secretary suggested the US market will very soon be open to Irish beef, and in the same way we are looking at the US market for Herdwatch, and also at France, and other European and global markets.”

The founder

Peyaud was born and raised in France and moved to Ireland in 1996, where he has continually worked in the IT sector in various roles, from systems analyst and programmer, to project manager.

“I now live in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, where I am the IT manager for FRS (Farm Relief Services) Network, a very progressive farmer-owned co-operative.

“Herdwatch is a perfect example of successful co-operation between potential users (farmers) and the technical people who can build the right solution to the challenges they face. In other words, Herdwatch is technology built for farmers, by farmers!”

The technology

Herdwatch is a hybrid cross-platform solution with a cloud back-end and a custom-built API which allows the company to communicate with the various platforms farmers may decide to use, such as Android, iOS, Windows or Mac.

“Our back-end processes also allow us to communicate with the Department of Agriculture’s web services platform in a secure and reliable manner.

“Herdwatch is available to download on the Apple App Store, Google Play Store and from our website for the PC/Mac version. Most features also work offline, which was a key requirement due to on-going mobile coverage issues in rural Ireland.”

Global potential

Peyaud says Herdwatch has huge global potential in the agri-tech sector.

“Managing cattle in Ireland or the UK is not dissimilar to managing cattle in the US, France, or even the Middle East. The basic requirements are the same, and we believe Herdwatch can become the leader in the collection and analysis of farm-level data which will benefit farmers globally.

“Equally, managing sheep or horses could be done via a similar solution running on the Herdwatch platform, and we are exploring these avenues, too.

“Ultimately, we hope most farmers will manage their herd on the go using Herdwatch, but they might also be able to remotely manage and control their equipment, such as milking machines, feeders, or keep an eye their animal’s health, via a network of advanced sensors, which are currently being developed by various other companies, so the sky is the limit!”

Progress

Herdwatch went live in February 2014, and in the first four months, more than 250 farmers have signed up on Herdwatch.ie for a yearly subscription of €99.

“We are extremely happy with the take-up, but more importantly, with the feedback we have been getting from users, such as ‘I wouldn’t be without it’ or ‘I’ve been looking for a solution like this for years.’

“Our platform has been extremely stable, giving us the confidence and scope to expand to global markets in the near future.

“In fact, we have recently become an Enterprise Ireland client, and hope to announce some exciting partnerships and features very soon. We are currently considering our options in terms of investment needs and strategy, but of course if someone made us an offer we would look at it.”

Challenges

Peyaud said finding a software development partner was a very difficult process.

“I use the word ‘partner’ even though they are paid contractors, but getting the right developer(s) is so important that I always think of them as partners in a tech start-up. We found that developers had a tendency to push ‘their’ technology rather than what was right for Herdwatch, so we ended up doing the research ourselves, hand-picking the technology first and then the developers to go with it.

“I was fortunate to have a technical background, so I was able to play a big part in the R&D process but this would have been a far bigger challenge for a non-techie entrepreneur.

“Another sizeable challenge was getting approval from the Department of Agriculture, so Herdwatch could interface directly with its servers to register calves and download a user’s herd details. It took months of hard work, but we got there in the end, and it was a major achievement for the Herdwatch team.”

A vibrant start-up scene

Peyaud said the start-up environment in Ireland would be the envy of many countries in Europe.

“Being French, I try to keep up with what’s going on there, and I can safely say that the start-up scene in Ireland is a lot more vibrant and positive than in France.

“First, there is a lot less bureaucracy and setting up a business can literally be done in a day, so the barriers are low. But there is also a lot more support available for start-ups, particularly through the fantastic agency that is Enterprise Ireland (EI).

“They have provided us with an invaluable global support network which will help us develop into Europe, the US and other markets. In actual fact, I recently shared a speaker panel with Robert Bushnell, senior development adviser in EI, who gave excellent advice on the various support mechanisms available in Enterprise Ireland for start-ups with global potential, so I would encourage anyone with a start-up which may have export potential to contact Enterprise Ireland and explore the vast array of services they offer.”

Positive attitude

Peyaud said more tech start-ups need to adopt a US-style positive attitude and tech entrepreneurs should get involved in networking events and speaker panels.

“If your tech start-up has anything to do with the mobile industry, I would strongly recommend you contact your local Mobile Monday chapter. There are over 100 globally and three in Ireland: Belfast, Dublin and Cork, where you will have the opportunity to meet like-minded entrepreneurs and people who can and will make a difference.

“Your local Mobile Monday chapter is the ideal gateway to Silicon Valley, where they also have many chapters. In fact, thanks to the Global Mobile Monday tech network, I was able to connect with a few start-ups and kick-off potential partnerships and collaborations in a matter of minutes!”

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com